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Borealis Beat

A glimpse into the mind of our Artistic Director as she shares her knowledge and expertise on our music selections, the composers, artists, concerts, and more

Count, Duke, Prince, King

Consortium Aurora Borealis is thrilled to be back with a live concert from our favourite stylistic period! “Count, Duke, Prince, King” presents elegant Baroque chamber music from the courts of eighteenth-century Germany for flute, oboe, violin, cello, and harpsichord, written by significant composers who were in the employ of aristocrats and royalty.

Revel in the delights of solos, trios, and quartets by Telemann, Quantz, J.S. Bach, his son C.P.E. Bach, and His Majesty King Frederick II “The Great” of Prussia.

Performing are Consortium’s finest, longest-serving musicians, four of them going back to the early 1980’s. Doris Dungan, Colleen Kennedy, Katie Stevens, and Marc Palmquist are well-known to Thunder Bay audiences from their many years of service as key players in the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra. I am honoured to join them on our beloved French two-manual harpsichord, which we are overjoyed to see returning to the stage after an absence of two-and-a-half years. We hope you will be charmed!

Several interesting interconnections exist between the composers specially selected for this programme. Georg Philipp Telemann, employed by a count, and later by a duke, was godfather to harpsichordist-composer Carl Philpp Emanuel Bach, third and most famous son of the illustrious Johann Sebastian Bach. Telemann served as Kapellmeister in Hamburg from 1721 to his death at 86 in 1767, but applied for and won the prestigious post of Kantor at Leipzig’s Thomaskirche in 1723. However, after receiving a raise from his employer as an incentive to stay in Hamburg, Telemann turned down Leipzig, as did the next successful candidate. As a result, the position was awarded to Johann Sebastian, one more interconnection, and the rest is history!

J.S.B.’s sonata for oboe and obbligato harpsichord, sometimes performed on flute, has also been attributed to his son. C.P.E. Bach served Frederick the Great from 1738 when he was still Crown Prince, later joining the King’s court at Potsdam, along with Quantz, Frederick’s flute teacher, chamber musician and personal composer.

Frederick surrounded himself with outstanding musicians even before being crowned in 1740, was an accomplished flautist, performing daily, even when on military campaigns, and also composed. The excellence of his court orchestra was legendary. C.P.E. succeeded Telemann as Kapellmeister in Hamburg in 1768 after leaving the court of the very conservative Frederick the Great, where his talents weren’t appreciated, despite having served the King for thirty years. He initiated a series of twenty subscription concerts that winter, remaining in his Hamburg post for twenty years until his death.

Much of our concert centres around the kind of music-making that surrounded Frederick the Great. In 1732 to 1740, while Crown Prince, he assembled musicians, played, composed, acted, read at Rheinsberg Palace, 100 km northwest of Berlin. He called these the happiest years of his life. He subsequently reigned from 1740 to 1786 as an enlightened absolute monarch, and was a great patron of the arts, expanding his musicians from seventeen to fifty.

Frederick’s routine included daily flute lessons, hours of practice, and performing of several sonatas and concertos mostly written by himself or by Quantz, who coached and applauded him, at nightly concerts in his palace of Sans-Souci near Potsdam. As a composer, Frederick wrote 121 musically-engaging flute sonatas, four flute concertos, plus other works, mixing French and Italian styles. The emphasis at his court was on flute music; Quantz as court composer wrote 296 flute concertos for the King, and over 200 sonatas!

Frederick’s playing was praised for its “strong full sound and much virtuosity.” One contemporary composer and music critic wrote: “The King delivered the Adagio with so much inner feelings and such moving simplicity and honesty that one rarely heard it without tears.”  Eminent English historian and traveller Charles Burney had this to say of Frederick in 1789, having visited at court: “I was much pleased, and even surprised, with the neatness of his execution in the allegros…His majesty played three long and difficult concertos successively, and all with equal perfection.”

Elsewhere Burney says: “Frederick’s flute even went on campaign with him as an aid to relaxation together with a collapsible harpsichord, which folded into three parts to assist with the travelling.” The King participated fully in battles, but always with his wooden flute at his side, from which he derived courage as well as pleasure. But then Burney added: “During the last years of his life, his Prussian Majesty, having lost some of his front teeth, not only discontinued the practice of the flute, but his evening concerts, and became totally indifferent to music, a proof that his Majesty’s chief pleasure in the art was derived from his own performance.”

Quantz, the highest-paid wind player in all of Europe, was appointed to Frederick’s court as musician in 1741. Initially, he was an oboist, and also played violin. Quantz was not only a renowned flautist and a composer, but also an instrument-builder, making innovative improvements to the flute by adding a second key and a movable headpiece to improve pitch. He wrote an influential treatise on flute-playing in 1752 which brought him great fame, around the same tine that Mozart’s father Leopold wrote his important treatise on violin-playing (1756, Wolfgang’s year of birth) and C.P.E. Bach his on keyboard-playing (1753 & 1762), all of these in German.

Here are two quotations about Quantz, the first one quite hyperbolic: “The music of this man was divine and all Italians agree that never a composer exceeded Quantz, maybe not even equaled him in the instrumental composition, especially for the traverse flute”, and “…if only you had heard the enchanting flute of Quantz, if you had seen how – he aroused enjoyment and gaiety in the most resistant of listeners.” (1774-76).

Aside from J.S. Bach and Telemann, our most noteworthy composer is C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788, his birth and death both a mere two years after Frederick). He was a transitional composer, relinquishing Baroque grandeur and favouring the modern style galant over that of his father. His music was expressive, sometimes dramatic, his new style epitomized in the German term Empfindsamkeit, “sensitivity”, as he moved between the Baroque and Classical. His motto was “touch the heart, awaken the passions”.

C.P.E. Bach espoused the quiet-voiced clavichord, suitable for intimate settings and capable of expressivity on account of its manner of construction, permitting changes to volume and attack. It could also produce ‘Bebung’, a type of vibrato, through changing pressure on the keys. His essay “On the true art of playing keyboard instruments” (1753 & 1762) influenced Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, as did his music. Mozart said “He is the father, we are the children.”

C.P.E. Bach’s obituary in the Hamburg press, December 16, 1788, reads: “His compositions are masterpieces and will remain outstanding long after all the modern rubbish has been forgotten. In him the art of music has lost one of its greatest adornments and the name of Carl Philipp Emanuel will always be venerated.”

We have already spoken of Telemann. He was more famous than Bach and Handel in his day. Telemann was extremely prolific, composing much sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental music, and influenced C.P.E. Bach. On our programme are two of his quartets for all five of our players, at the start and end of our concert, the cello and harpsichord playing the bass line together. The first, in three movements (fast-slow-fast), begins and ends in a very sprightly fashion, and is typical of the light, easy-listening, entertaining chamber music which would have been enjoyed at small gatherings.

Next, we will be transported to the court of Frederick the Great as we hear examples of intimate, social music-making in works written by his court musicians. First comes a lovely trio sonata by Quantz for flute and oboe, both instruments which the composer played. This is followed by a piece by C.P.E. Bach which started off as a violin sonata with obbligato harpsichord, but was arranged as a trio sonata by C.P.E., with flute replacing the active right hand of the harpsichord, which sinks into a supporting continuo role. However, its obbligato role returns in J.S. Bach’s ravishing Oboe Sonata in G minor, where the two instruments deliciously interweave.

The King finally has his moment, with one of his many flute sonatas, this in E minor. We chose to perform it with only keyboard accompaniment, showing off the rich timbre of our harpsichord. Doris Dungan and I will be presenting a concert of Baroque flute music with this combination at the opening concert of our 45th season, on September 16, 2023, with all the repertoire drawn from the many concerts we played opening our seasons over the years, from 1987 onwards. We hope you will join us then!

A thoroughly-delightful four-movement work for all five musicians from Telemann’s substantial Tafelmusik  (‘Tablemusic’) concludes our concert, as all instruments gaily dance in its final rollicking vivace! Toronto’s Baroque orchestra, founded the same year as Consortium, is named after this publication. Telemann issued his “Musique de table” in 1733, as a collection in three parallel parts, each covering the main Baroque instrumental genres of overture, quartet, concerto, trio sonata, solo sonata, along with a conclusion. Its instrumentation was highly varied.

The composer pre-sold Tafelmusik through subscriptions at a hefty price, aiming mainly at the wealthy. Its 206 subscribers included Handel, Quantz, flute virtuoso Blavet, and royalty. It was intended to accompany feasts and banquets, as elegant dinner music, the last of a courtly tradition which flourished in the Renaissance. Appealing but not distracting, conversational, not virtuosic, stylish and exhibiting the spirit of the dance, such was the charming music that was a suitable backdrop to fine dining.

Telemann declared: “This work will hopefully bring me glory one day; but you will never have regrets.”  Glory it did indeed bring him, nor have we regrets! We hope you will enjoy our musical offering, our musical banquet!


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